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Chris A

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About Chris A

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  • Birthday July 23

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  1. Comparing Lang in M to Ministry of Fear, I see the same type of style in his approach to lighting and mise-en-scene. It is amazing how he can work with the cameraman to get rich, dark blacks without making the scene underexposed. The entire effect makes the photography look more "silky" in a way. What is different about Ministry is that it has a shot structure and editing pattern that is much more economical than M. The odd angles are there and the camera isolates the characters well. There is great use of positive and negative space for structure and lines or starkness, respectively. But I didn't get a sense of scenes that dragged on like M. While I like M, I can definitely see a development and maturation of style in Lang's work between the two. I will liken his evolution to neo-noir director I mentioned in another thread: Michael Mann. Compare Mann's Manhunter to Collateral. Manhunter, while very good, is not as refined as Collateral. I see the same type of refinement in Ministry.
  2. Watched The Glass Key and Laura. Watching Lang's Ministry of Fear now. I have to say, I like the visuals so much more. Both Key and Laura had some of the visuals that helps to define noir, but Ministry of Fear just looks...different. I liken it to how Citizen Kane looked different from other contemporary films of the time. In Key and Laura, I found the cinematography to be adept and skillful, but the lighting to be less exaggerated and the camera work to be less varied...a lot of MS or LS. Lang parses up his space in more discreet chunks, more variation from LS to CU. The tonal range is also richer than the first two movies. I attribute this to masterful lighting and risk-taking in how to frame and shoot the different scenes. THis may be because Lang has a deeper background in German Expressionism. The look of Ministry of Fear is what I think of when I think of noir, much more baroque in its lighting and compositional style.
  3. These are dark tales of a sinister world, where in my opinion (and that of several "popular" film critics - David Thomson is at the top of my list), the stories are told with a visual style that reinforces the dark cynical world they inhabit. I like this part of your reply the most. Very well said.
  4. I agree that Mann has the mood, imagery, and story that is needed for noir. I am just playing devil's advocate here...at what point does noir become overused. That is not to mean that Mann's films don't have an awesomeness about them that no one else can do, but (and I am just throwing this out there), when does noir lose its significance. I could see someone looking at a movie with a dark tone (Psycho, Gone Girl, Snatch) and say, "Hey, that's noir!" Should it be used so widely? (I am seriously wondering, not a rhetorical question). I use Mann only because he seems to have carved out a niche for himself that some have called "crime noir," and he is one of the more recent directors to seem to continue to fall into that slot. I can see that -- especially in Heat and Collateral. His protagonists are not vehicles to solve the conflict, but they require investigation and unraveling. The mood is tense, dark, and existential. I have always enjoyed his films, but I probably would not have thought of them as film noir as intensely before this course. Anyone have thoughts?
  5. So, I noticed that Thief (1981) directed by Michael Mann is coming up on our viewing list in July. Seeing this prompted me to watch Collateral (2004) and think about Manhunter (1986), Miami Vice (2006) and Heat (1995), all MIchael Mann films. While Mann's name has been invoked within the discussion of film noir in numerous critical writings, I was wondering what people thought. Do the Mann films mentioned above seem to fit with the concept of film noir as we have discussed thus far, or do you think he is better defined as a director or "crime movies," not necessarily film noir? The reason I ask, while the themes are often dark and expose a moral ambiguity seen in some of the movies we have studied thus far, there are other elements that are clearly absent, like a femme fatale. Interested in all opinions.
  6. Mildred Pierce is one of those films that has more in common with noir through its themes and looks than in some of the characterizations we have seen in some of the previous films. While the film does start with a murder, then a lengthy flashback, the run back up to the present contains the most noir in the daughter's turn to the "dark side," so to speak. There is a wonderful use of shadows and light when Mildred discovers something about her daughter (I won't spoil it here). Many people have written about the thematic and some of the lighting influences of noir already. Getting to the character staging and camera work -- As the scene progresses, the realization that Mildred has for her daughter turns from being surprised to being disgusted. Veda begins in a close-up, kissing a check while Mildred apologizes for something doesn't concern Veda -- she has her money. The first bit is all 2-shot or long shot with both in the frame. As the tension mounts, Veda initially turns her back on Mildred. When Mildred confronts her, they turn into profile to further symbolize the direct conflict they have with each other. When Veda explains why she wants money so badly, she steps closer to Mildred, and the camera moves in to a tighter 2-shot. The conflict increases. The shot switches from a LS to MS when each makes statements that are critical to their character or what they reveal to each other. Mildred says, "You'll do anything for money, even blackmail" in MS, while Veda in a MS/CU tells her mother that now she can get away from anything that reminds her of her mother, and that her mother will always be a "common frump." Mildred's CUs are revelations about her daughter; Veda's are accusatory or meant to hurt her mother for what she has accomplished. When Mildred kicks Veda out and tells her to leave before she kills her (whoa, where did that come from?), Mildred is 1/4 turn to us and Veda is 3/4 turn. We get to see Veda's wordless reaction in a close-up, showing the barely restrained rage. This scene is a great example of how camera work parallels and enhances the tension.
  7. In both movies, Lang is using a minimalist approach to put the viewer on edge. In M the courtyard is barren, and the child's voice is sharp with a harsh echo. In Ministry of Fear the clock is the only thing to look at. Instead of a disquieting sound, we have only the slight tick of the clock and the eerie music. The fact that the clock is surrounding by so much negative space and is backed by harsh shadows from the directional light creates an even more unsettling vibe. When the camera tracks back we get to see just how big the clock is -- it dominates the wall. Time is a very important factor. The clock never leaves the frame except for a medium shot of Milland in a strange expression of elation with an almost maniacal tension. The man is initially in shadow, an instant mystery. Who is he? Where is he? Why is he watching the clock? The conversation is too vague to give us an exact sense of place, we only know that London is being bombed and the protagonist wants to go there -- the risk is worth it. In M, Lang does an excellent job of giving us a sense of place in the apartment complex. The stairs are long enough to make the climb carrying the laundry basket an unpleasant chore. The woman at the wash basin (Elsie's mother) is weary but has a schedule as evidenced by how she expects her daughter at a certain time. The way she sets the table shows us the fastidious nature of her role as a mother and housewife. In Ministry of Fear, I found the scene where Milland is leaving the asylum to be interesting. As he pauses at the gate for his final conversation, the tight framing gives a claustrophobic sense. His freedom is held is check for just a moment longer. Framed between the stone wall, the psychiatrist and the guard, Milland is told "not to get involved with the police again." It is a warning backed up by the visuals of confinement. Only when he walks out of the frame does the mise-en-scene become more open as the camera pans to follow him and reveal the name of institution. Lang clearly understands the psychological use of shadow, positive/negative space, sound, and boiling down information to create a sharp, specific emotional response. Having never seen Ministry of Fear, I am looking forward to comparing this work to M. Has Lang refined his approach? What has evolved, what is new, what part of his style has survived without any alterations?
  8. I agree with you that cynicism and fatalism are huge players in film noir. Life is not fair, and the protagonist cannot afford to be naive. Many of the times it is about the blunt realization that you don't get the brass ring. The world is far more powerful than many of the characters and any attempt to contest that is often met with failure (the gravest sense is death) or in the best case maybe bringing a small bit of justice to those who deserve it. I don't know if I would agree that the protagonist is doomed by his own flaws. That pushes the protagonist into a realm of a tragic hero (in the classic sense). Certainly, the protagonist is not above the conflict and his choices (whom to trust, what preparations to make, ability to solve the mystery) drive not only the plot but the morality of the themes. Many times, you see the protagonist have to overcome those flaws to ensure he survives. True, there are some protagonists, like in The Letter from last week, where the protagonist (Bette Davis) makes decisions that lead to her death, but as a whole I think that is the exception more than the rule. An interesting case comes into play when you look at a film noir like Sunset Boulevard. SPOILER -- sorry. There Joe makes a choice to surmount his faults and get away from Norma. He is trying to make an ethical decision, one that preserves what little integrity he has left. He is finally acting like a person. And it gets him killed. Perhaps the best we can hope for is a protagonist that succeeds because he can overcome his flaws. Anything else is icing on the cake.
  9. Many people here have made excellent comments about the disillusionment permeating American culture in the wake of WWII. That cannot be denied. Often films and their storytelling are used to reflect and comment on social events or movements. Vietnam war films are one example, as are other war films to come after the Persian Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Terror is a big issue now, yet another example of how movies are influenced by events. One could probably even make the case about the resurgence of superhero films as a way to redefine or return to an idealistic sense of justice (even with our now-modernized and humanized heroes) In addition to the social influences, I think the discussion in the lecture about film noir as a cinematic style is extremely important, and may simply go beyond low-key or high-contrast lighting, diagonal lines, and extreme angles (to represent the extreme anxiety of the conflict). I found very interesting that even in the podcast about The Maltese Falcon they made mention that at the time Huston was making his film, Welles and Toland were making Citizen Kane. Welles and Toland were risk-takers, and at this time in Hollywood, the DPs and camera operators were literally inventing new lenses and other accessories on the cameras to get what they wanted. Each studio had a machine shop, and they would literally fabricate things as they went. So, I think the technical vision and mechanical ability at the time is also an important contribution to what defines the film noir style, so now they could realize some of the visual ideas they had. Second, let's not forget the technical influences coming from Europe. While M is rightly cited as an example of the German Expressionism coming over, the technical advances were also being felt over here. By the mid- to late-1950s, you had lighter European cameras beginning to be used in Hollywood, and especially in some films noir (think Welles's Touch of Evil) which also aided in infusing the already revolutionary visuals with a continuing sense of "newness." I guess was has meant the most to me out of the first lecture and the podcast is that it made me look past the tropes and conventions that I have always thought about with film noir and consider why it happened. Perhaps even more importantly, why is it still happening. What does it say about us?
  10. As I have said, I haven't seen all of Murder, My Sweet yet, so I will have to wait to see all of what Marlowe does. I do sense, at this point, a bit of misanthropy in Sam Spade -- will it be to the extent as Marlowe? I will have to see. Spade seems just as distrusting of O'Shaughnessy as Marlowe is of Grayle. He even tells her so much to her face -- we didn't believe you, we believed your $200; oh, you're good, the way you get that tremble in your throat when you say 'help me, Mr. Spade'; the way he has to defend his innocence to the police, the implied affair with his late partner's wife. While Spade may not "lay-hands" on his client to coerce her identity (as seen in this clip at least), Spades distaste seems different only in presentation. He is just as conniving. I will be interested to see if 1) Spade and Marlowe are very different in their fundamental character types, 2) if the moral code is as strong with Marlowe as it is with Spade. Thanks for the thought to consider.
  11. Agreed on both counts -- I would also include the behavior is to serve a sort of ethical code. Usually, it came down to valuing men over women and ultimately finding a sort of justice in which the guilty parties were punished int he end. Dudley Smith is killed, Brigid O'Shaughnessy is arrested at the end of Maltese Falcon, Cagney gets his in White Heat, etc. I have not seen all of Murder, My Sweet yet, but I would be surprised if the same doesn't follow through. The moral code must be upheld. In the brutal reality of the film noir world, the ends justify the means.
  12. As it is common in films noir, women are not to be trusted. Whether it is Mary Astor's Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon or Ann Grayle, the investigators cannot afford to be fooled by a woman's charm. He locks the door and stands over her waiting for the moment to grab her wrists and turn her purse upside-down. The PI must treat the client like a suspect, especially if it is a woman. Much of this comes from an internal code. Marlowe is looking out for himself, yet another change in the PI character. He is implicated (through an attempted payoff) and interested in the jade as well. There is less "professional distance" than you would expect in a professional context. He needs to be this way to survive in the film noir reality -- it is filled with selfish, deceitful people motivated by lust and greed. The best he can hope to do is stick with his morals and come through alive at the end, hopefully paid and able to carry on. This sets up the trope of the rugged PI and the femme fatale. You can even carry this all the way to an extreme sci-fi neo-noir like Blade Runner (1982). Harrison Ford's Decker is investigating something he is ultimately implicated in because of Sean Young's femme fatale. Ridley Scott pulls of the conventions perfectly, adapting them from the their origins.
  13. The panning camera movement allows the viewer to "discover" the setting and forces them to focus attention on the details -- perhaps similar to the way the detective first experienced the room when he entered. It is a lot to take in. Seveal people here have mentioned the significance of clocks and masks -- so I will not repeat that here. The room itself is fastidiously arranged, almost like a museum. The fact that some items are kept behind glass goes even further to show Lydecker's materialism. The clock, masks, and the glass "relic" get the most attention as the camera now "catches-up" to McPherson. Lydecker's contempt for McPerson is clear -- "Another one of those detectives" that he had wait for him. He also asserts his power through keeping the man under observation, unbeknownst to him. His first words to him are a reprimand. His further conversation objectifies McPerson as "that detective" who was shot by a fugitive. Lydecker clearly arranges his reality in terms of "things" and how they benefit him, or how he dominates them. His monologue is further punctuated with first person references -- how this is affecting him. But at the end of it, he comes out on top. He was the only person to understand Laura.
  14. In that case Lantier stands out from the cynicism around him. True, there is no dramatic irony to the tragedies around the characters, but everyone seems to be angling for something, except (as you said) Lantier. Roubaud and Severine do represent the extreme, and Severine's seductiveness plays on Lantier's good nature (he is really trying to not become his ancestors but feels trapped by them -- thus the mournfulness you mentioned before). Outside of Lantier the world is more cynical -- even his engineer friend talks about multiple affairs and how he views a woman's responsibility. I would not go so far as to apply 21st-century American values to a 1940s French film, but that type of sexism has been around a long time. Lantier's love for Severine may be genuine from his point of view, but we do have a wider understanding. While not dramatically irony to the point of tragedy, we are privy to the extent that Severine and Roubaud will go. That is what I meant by "cynnical." You make some excellent points. We may be splitting hairs here.
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